The Corner

Education

Harvard Demonstrates Once Again That Post-Christian America Is Post-Forgiveness America

Activist Kyle Kashuv addresses the 148th National Rifle Association annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 26, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Today, Parkland-shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv tweeted that Harvard University had rescinded his admissions offer after it discovered that he’d made offensive, racist comments in a private online chat when he was 16 years old. I’m not going to repeat what he said, but no one disputes that his comments were egregious and wrong. Kyle doesn’t dispute that fact. He’s apologized publicly, and he apologized to Harvard. He’s done everything we want a young man to do when he’s done something wrong.

But in today’s post-Christian, allegedly more-tolerant culture, apologies are not enough. He has to be punished.

I fully recognize that vile speech has consequences. I fully recognize that Harvard is a private institution and can admit who it wants to admit (so long as it complies with applicable law), and that it can advance its own institutional values. Kyle has already suffered the consequence of more public shame and humiliation than most Americans will endure in a lifetime. There are people who will remind him of his bad speech every time he engages publicly, from now until the end of his career.

But can’t an educational institution understand that children are different from adults and that a truly enormous amount of growth can occur in a short amount of time — especially when that growth is spurred in part by enduring horrific trauma? Harvard has had the ability to watch Kyle more than virtually any other student in its freshman class. It’s seen him operate in the white-hot glare of public debate over one of the most contentious issues in American life. To the extent that any freshman is a known quantity, Kyle is known — and he’s known to presently conduct himself with unusual patience and dignity.

My oldest child is 20. I have an 18-year-old son. I’ve spent most of the last decade around teenagers, and I know how much they need guidance, forgiveness, and grace. I know how much a person can grow, and I know that adversity and mistakes are often the catalyst for growth. But woke culture has forgotten those lessons. Woke culture treats a teen like an adult and tries to crush his public reputation when his character is still in in its infancy.

Let’s not pretend that Kyle is anything other than a victim of the culture wars. Had he not stepped forward after Parkland as a conservative spokesperson, he would be in no one’s crosshairs. He would have been allowed to make a mistake. At its heart, the attack on Kyle isn’t about making Harvard safe from racists. It’s not about protecting anyone. It’s about politics.

And if we doubt that Harvard’s decision is ultimately about politics, consider these true words, from Ben Shapiro in the Daily Wire this morning:

There are ex-convicts who, quite properly, have been admitted to Harvard — they earned forgiveness. There are current students who undoubtedly have said things privately that would shock the conscience. There are likely administrators who have said things when they were 16 years old that embarrass them now.

Harvard will not be a better place because it punished Kyle. America is not a better place because adults weaponize the careers and fortunes of teenagers to win news cycles and settle scores.

Kyle is a talented young man. He’ll have options. But the fact that he’ll come through this fire doesn’t mean that he should have been burned. I remember my days at Harvard a generation ago. I remember the hostility against religion and the firm belief that if only we could shed the archaic rules of Bronze Age faiths, then we could enter a new era of tolerance. Religion, they believed, made good men bad.

But no. The mighty secular institutions of the cultural elite are shedding grace as they shed faith. Unless constrained by law, they’re increasingly vindictive. On a much smaller scale, Harvard’s vindictiveness reminds me of Oberlin’s malice. Self-righteousness untempered by humility makes a country cruel. And that is exactly the nation America’s illiberal ideologues hope to create.

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David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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